Monthly Archives: January 2011

Bronze and Iron

“Listen to this, O house of Jacob,
you who are called by the name of Israel
    
and come from the line of Judah,
you who take oaths in the name of the Lord
     and invoke the God of Israel–
    
but not in truth or righteousness–
you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city
    
and rely on the God of Israel–
    
the Lord Almighty is his name:
I foretold the former things long ago,
    
my mouth announced them and I made them known;
    
then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
For I knew how stubborn you were;
    
the sinews of your neck were iron,
    
your forehead was bronze.
Therefore I told you these things long ago;
    
before they happened I announced them to you
so that you could not say,
    
‘My idols did them;
    
my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’
You have heard these things; look at them all.
    
Will you not admit them?
“From now on I will tell you of new things,
    
of hidden things unknown to you.
They are created now, and not long ago;
    
you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say,
    
‘Yes, I knew of them.’
You have neither heard nor understood;
    
from of old your ear has not been open.
Well do I know how treacherous you are;
    
you were called a rebel from birth.
For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath;
    
for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you,
    
so as not to cut you off.
See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
    
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.
    
How can I let myself be defamed?
    
I will not yield my glory to another.
Isaiah 48:1-11 (NIV)

I frequently hear people say that God’s people are never subject to God’s judgment – that we are exempt, because we are loved by God.  Such ideas give Christians a great deal of comfort, I suppose, but they totally overlook huge chunks of Bible history!

When Israel was on the way to the Promised Land, God’s judgment fell hard on His people whenever they disobeyed Him, over and over again, until all those over 20 when they left Egypt were destroyed (except Joshua and Caleb, who were obedient to Him).  Through the days of the judges, God allowed His people to be overrun by their enemies over and over again as they disobeyed Him.  The climax, of course, was the Assyrian Captivity for the northern tribes, and the Babylonian Captivity for the people of Judah.

Isaiah here, and throughout his book, contains strong judgment on God’s people.  God never sugarcoats anything, but always tells it very straight.  He points out that judgment has fallen on His people (verses 1&2) due to their disobedience, specifically idolatry.  But while He also indicates that the judgment is intended to refine and purify His people (verse 10), it is also very clear that only a remnant will be preserved through the refining process.

But some will say that we are now living in a new economy, the economy of grace; God doesn’t judge His people any more.  The problem is, I can’t find that anywhere in my Bible!  I do find that Jesus/God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and I find that sin is, by its very nature, rebellion against God.  I can’t find the verse that says, “No matter what you do, or how far you turn away from me, or how rebellious you are, or how sinful you become, there will be no penalty.  I’ll just keep on blessing you, and only bring judgment on those who do the same things, but don’t call themselves Christians.”

We have to realize that we have been bought with an insanely high price by the God of the whole universe!  And, as such, we are His slaves, and are to serve Him wholeheartedly, 24/7/365.  Jesus’ parables often feature the casting out of a “worthless servant” into outer darkness, clearly intended as “Don’t let this happen to you!”

Too many of God’s people today are too hard headed (“foreheads of bronze”) for God to speak to, and too stiff-necked (“necks of iron”) for Him to be able to direct and lead in the way they should go.  Too many have hearts that have been lured away from 100% devotion to Him by possessions and entertainments that our culture provides in such abundance.

Just as in Bible times, God’s judgment on His people first manifests itself as a withdrawal of His protection and power; the enemies that were once easily defeated now gain the upper hand, and society starts to slide downhill.  God’s people, who are to be the salt of the earth, lose their ability to preserve society from decay, and are good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled on by men (Matthew 5:13).  The next step in the process, historically, is for the nation to be handed over to the enemies of God’s people in order to purify a remnant.  I really see the Church in America today as having lost our saltiness.  We seemingly have no power or ability to stop the slide of our nation into decay and corruption, and we are being trampled on by men more and more.

The only solution to this problem is the same now as it has ever been.  There are no shortcuts; there are no alternatives.  2 Chronicles 7:14 is the solution that God Himself prescribes for His people when they have started to experience His judgment:  If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Note that this is not directed to all of the people of the nation, but specifically to those who are called by the name of the Lord (that would be us Christians).  We must:

  1. 1.   Humble ourselves, individually and together, even to the point that we are admitting that we are part of the problem.  This seems to be the most difficult part of the process (which is probably why God put it first!).  Our defense mechanisms kick in and we want to see everyone and everything else as the problem, and ourselves standing above the issues, pure and holy among evildoers, victims of forces beyond our control.  But if we are unwilling to admit that WE are the problem (and not cheating – not some hypothetical WE, but a WE that includes ME!), then the process is doomed.  If you want to see a first-hand account of this in action, take a look at the prayer of righteous Daniel (Daniel 9:1-19), and see if there is any place where he uses the word “they” for those of God’s people who were suffering God’s judgment that they deserved.  It takes real godly humility to admit that I have not been 100% faithful to God; to admit that I am a part of the problem.
  2. 2.   Pray.  Like Daniel, it’s not enough for us to admit to God that we have been wrong; we must pray for the restoration of God’s people to His favor, and for the healing of our land very specifically if we want to see Him act.
  3. 3.   Seek God’s face.  This talks about whole-hearted obedience to ALL of God’s commands (even Matthew 28:19-20!).  Remember that Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:8 that only the pure in heart, those who serve God wholeheartedly and are 100% devoted to Him, can see God face to face.
  4. 4.   Turn from our wicked ways. This is the classic definition of repentance, a change in direction.  Far from merely “turning over a new leaf,” true repentance requires a total reorientation of one’s life, turning totally away from the world and its enticements and totally toward God.  A 90 degree turn won’t do it – it must be a 180 degree change in our orientation.

The wonderful thing is that we have the Holy Spirit to help us through every step in the process.  But we must be intentional and united in our repentance.  It needs God’s PEOPLE, not God’s PERSON to change our minds and change our direction, or it will simply mean that the heat will get turned up even higher on us until we are moved enough to really get serious about God.

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Servant Life

“The poor and needy search for water,
    
but there is none;
     their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
    
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
    
and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia,
    
the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
    
the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
    
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
“Present your case,” says the Lord.
    
“Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.
“Bring in [your idols] to tell us
    
what is going to happen.
Tell us what the former things were,
    
so that we may consider them
    
and know their final outcome.
Or declare to us the things to come,
    
tell us what the future holds,
    
so we may know that you are gods.
Do something, whether good or bad,
    
so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.
But you are less than nothing
    
and your works are utterly worthless;
    
he who chooses you is detestable.
“I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes–
     one from the rising sun who calls on my name.
He treads on rulers as if they were mortar,
    
as if he were a potter treading the clay.
Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand,
    
so we could say, ‘He was right’?
No one told of this,
    
no one foretold it,
    
no one heard any words from you.
I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’
    
I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings.
I look but there is no one–
    
no one among them to give counsel,
    
no one to give answer when I ask them.
See, they are all false!
     Their deeds amount to nothing;
    
their images are but wind and confusion.
Isaiah 41:17-29 (NIV)  

God makes amazing promises in this passage before laying out a challenge to the ones who are so full of promises they can never pull off.  He promises rivers, springs, and pools of water to satisfy those parched with thirst; trees to give them shade and supply.  And all of these promises made to people who have given up hope.

It really makes me sad to hear so many these days talk about God as if He wasn’t real or didn’t care, and to do so with such authority in their voices and manners!  But they do so from a point of ignorance and blindness, not because of greater wisdom!  God is real, and is ever present and all-powerful.  But He is not Santa Claus or some genie in a bottle just waiting for us to pray so that He can say, “Your wish is my command,” and then fulfill our wildest dreams.  He is the God of the universe – the supreme Creator, who is all-powerful and eternal.  As such, HE gets to call the shots, and it is we who must listen closely to whatever His will is, and say, “Your wish is MY command.”

When we reverse those roles, we put ourselves in God’s role and try to force Him into our servant role – but He won’t go there.  That’s what verses 21-24 are about.  God challenges those who try to force their will on God, to dictate to Him what He must do.  He challenges them to tell the future (they can’t, of course), or to make something – anything – happen.  And, of course, they can’t.  God’s evaluation:  “Look, you are nothing and your work is worthless.  Anyone who chooses you is detestable.”

Then God shows what He is doing and how the things that HE has foretold have come true.  The final verdict:  He is God, and we are not.  The proper role for us is not that of boss, but that of lowly servants who wait expectantly for commands from our Lord, and then instantly obey, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

I believe we would see a lot more/better things happen if we, even in the Church, would simply give up dictating what God should do, and instead spend all that time and energy listening intently and instantly obeying.

Father, give us all listening ears and sanctified, obedient hearts like Jesus had.  If our lips speak at all outside of praising You, let it be only to say, “Your will be done.”  Amen.

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Restoration

But now, this is what the Lord says–
he who created you, O Jacob,
    
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    
you will not be burned;
    
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
    
and people in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    
I will bring your children from the east
    
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    
and my daughters from the ends of the earth–
everyone who is called by my name,
    
whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.”
Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,
    
who have ears but are deaf.
All the nations gather together
    
and the peoples assemble.
Which of them foretold this
    
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
    
so that others may hear and say, “It is true.”
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
    
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    
nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am the Lord,
    
and apart from me there is no savior.
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed–
    
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
     Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
    
No one can deliver out of my hand.
     When I act, who can reverse it?”
Isaiah 43:1-13 (NIV)

What an amazing passage!  God calls out to His captive people to reassure and comfort them.  Though they have been blind and deaf to His voice and His commands (verse 8), they are still His chosen people and are not to fulfill their destiny as His witnesses.

To facilitate this, He will bring them unscathed through the floods of opposition and the fires of persecution.  He will redeem them and draw them together, no matter how scattered they have become.  And in doing this, He will show that He is real, and that He is the only God.

The Lord did all of this, fulfilled to the letter, when He brought the captives back from Babylon.  But He has continued to fulfill it all through Church history as well.  He restored and drew together his blind and deaf people through Jesus and the salvation that He brought, raising them up again to be His witnesses.  Over and over again he brought them through fire and flood, stronger than ever.

Sadly, over and over again for nearly 2000 years, God’s people, the Church, have let the glare of the world blind their eyes, and a multitude of other voices deafen their ears to who God truly is and what he wants from them.  In every case He has raised up prophets and witnesses to open their eyes and ears again.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we are there again in the 21st century, at least in Europe and America.  By and large, the people called Christian are walking around with eyes blinded by the world philosophies and ideologies, deafened by our entertainments and our desires and cravings.  We can’t hear God any more – not that we really try most of the time!  It takes too much time and energy to really listen, and we are so busy with other stuff.  We are blinded to the wonderful things in the Bible – not that we really try to see them most of the time!  Quiet time to devote to intently reading the Bible is hard to fit into our active schedules.  And when we do find a few minutes to read, our minds don’t easily settle down and focus, so scattered are they by all of the things that we pour into them each day!

An awful lot of Christians have pretty much given up on ever being able to hear directly from God and be able to powerfully do what He calls us to do.  They leave that up to the professionals – those who have hours and hours to do nothing but sit and read and study and pray (if they only knew!).  Like the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, they yell out, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”  (Exodus 20:19 NIV)

Now, as much as ever before, God’s people need Him to call us powerfully out of the world and back into His presence; to open our ears and remove the scales from our eyes; to empower us to stand strong and walk boldly through fire and flood, and to again bear unflinching witness to the glory, majesty, love and grace of the only true God.

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What’s Wrong with the World?

“To whom will you compare me?
     Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
     Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
     and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
     not one of them is missing. 
Why do you say, O Jacob,
     and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
     my cause is disregarded by my God”? 
Do you not know?
     Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
     the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
     and his understanding no one can fathom. 
He gives strength to the weary
     and increases the power of the weak. 
Even youths grow tired and weary,
     and young men stumble and fall; 
but those who hope in the Lord
     will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
     they will run and not grow weary,
     they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:25-31 (NIV)

When Judah was conquered by Babylon and went into captivity, it would be very easy for the people to conclude that a) God was not powerful enough to deliver them, having to surrender them to the more powerful god(s) of the Babylonians, or that b) God just plain old didn’t care about them.  Isaiah shows the falsity of that whole line of reasoning in this passage by showing that:  a) God was powerful enough to create the stars out of nothing – surely nothing that people design or do can stymie Him, and b) God is caring, and can easily rescue and empower those who trust in Him.

We see the same kind of reasoning today, both in and out of the Church.  People either believe (and teach) that God is not powerful enough to keep chaos from overtaking the world (even to the point of sometimes making God Himself seem like a fellow victim of evil in the world, like Rabbi Kushner does in When Bad Things Happen to Good People), or that He doesn’t really care, and has left us alone to deal with all of the bad things that are bound to happen to us.

But what an amazingly different picture the Bible (and history!) paints!

God is the creator of everything, despite the fact that many these days deny both His power and the fact of His creation.  They do this without any logical reason (there is nothing illogical about an infinite and infinitely powerful God being able to create a universe like ours from scratch, so there is no logical basis for denying those facts), but when they deny God’s power over every force in the universe, they rob themselves of a strong place to stand in uncertain times.  And, as the creator, God is powerful enough to be able to do WHATEVER needs to be done.

And God is infinitely caring, to the point that He came to the Earth Himself as the God-man Jesus Christ, in order to reveal Himself to us and to give Himself to pay the penalty for our sins, and open the door to eternal life for us.  But again, many have denied this truth, again for no logical reason.  And then, having denied God’s revealed character and power, as well as His revelation that explains everything and give the answer to every question that they are asking, they rail against Him for not delivering or protecting them.

The sad thing is, God tells us clearly in the Bible the “rules of the game.”  We can have the victory here and now if we will come to Him for His deliverance on HIS terms:  faith, repentance, and absolute surrender to His will and His agenda.  That doesn’t mean that if we will come to God that we will have a life free from problems and trouble, or that we won’t get sick or things like that.  Jesus Himself told us that in this sinful and broken world that we live in we WOULD have troubles (John 16:33) but that we should take heart, because through His obedience to God’s commands, His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, He has overcome the world, and, in Him, we can overcome too, not just for the here and now, but for eternity!

But, even though God has revealed this very clearly to us, and even though He has shown Himself faithful in the lives of every single person who has ever trusted in Him, and even though God is continually holding out His hands to the people of our world, inviting them to simply trust in Him and to receive the same victory over the world that Jesus had, too many people simply turn their backs on Him and His love, preferring to live in rebellion and anger over God not living up to their expectations, and thereby cutting themselves off from the only source of help in the universe.

It’s sad, but the fault is ours, not God’s!

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     Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.” 
     When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
     And Moses said, “Here I am.” 
     “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 
     The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.  So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” 
     But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 
     And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
Exodus 3:1-12 (NIV)

When God appeared to Moses, a couple of things really stand out:

  • The encounter was unexpected and unsought – this was God’s timing, not man’s.
  • God made it very clear who He was and why He was appearing.  This was no idle appearance, but one with a very clear, God-centered purpose.
  • God Himself determined the conditions for the encounter, setting limits on how close Moses could come, even requiring no shoes.

When we come to God full of demands, entering His presence with our own agenda and our own conditions that we expect Him to meet, we will likely never actually enter His presence at all, no matter how many words we use, or how flowery they are.  We will just be talking to the wind.  To be in God’s presence, we must come to know and to do HIS will, not to persuade or manipulate Him somehow into doing ours.  Our prayer must always be, “Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.”

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